25 ultimate upgrades

High performance solutions to get your cottage in top working order

By Richard BrignallRichard Brignall

2 comments

16. Electrical wires

Never leave cut electrical wires hanging in the crawl space or anywhere else. Code,and your own safety, requires that all wire — live or not — must terminate in a receptacle box, and that all boxes must have a cover.

17. Cool your attic

Cottages, especially ones with an attic, need roof and soffit vents to help keep the attic space cool. In winter, this lowers the chance of ice dams. In the summer, a poorly vented attic can reach 65°C or more. This trapped heat can turn the ceiling, especially if it’s uninsulated, into a huge radiator that pumps heat into the living space below, and can shorten the lifespan of asphalt shingles above. If the clocks start dripping like they’re in a Salvador Dali painting, it may be time to look to the attic for insulation and vents, not the fridge for another iced tea. Turbine or gravity roof vents can get the job done, but a continuous ridge vent is more effective because it ventilates along the entire length of the ridge, the highest point in the attic, where the hot air collects. But if there aren’t soffit vents under the eaves, any roof vent is mostly decorative — the soffit vents let cool air in, pushing warm air out the roof vents.

18. Prevent surge damage

Lightning storms, power outages, and other events that cause power surges can damage your cottage’s electrical system. The familiar power-strip, or power-bar, surge protectors shield whatever is plugged into them and a submersible pump surge arrestor protects the pump. A whole-house surge protector, installed (by an electrician, not a DIYer) right at the electrical panel, diverts power surges coming into the cottage away from your electrical system and to ground. It shields all those appliances and other devices that aren’t plugged into a power-strip surge protector. But whole-house protection doesn’t mean you can get rid of those power strips. While power strips can handle small surges coming from outside the cottage, they’re really intended to protect sensitive electronics from fluctuations created by other devices within the cottage. For example, turning on your microwave or dishwasher creates a small disturbance that finds its way through your wires and, in time, slowly wears down electronic devices. Some power strips protect equipment connected to other wires, such as those carrying your phone or satellite TV service. A good power strip will cost about $50 or more; cheaper ones are often not very effective.

19. Preserve your deck

Many cottagers don’t realize that pressure-treated and cedar lumber is still susceptible to the elements. Both can slowly decay with the effects of rain, sunlight, snow, and traffic. In areas of high humidity, shade, or poor air circulation, mildew can take up residence. A coat of stain or sealant will help preserve the wood. A clear, water-repellant sealant helps prevent splitting, warping, cupping, and cracking. One with ultraviolet protection, often used on cedar, preserves the original colour. A repellant without that ultraviolet barrier also protects your deck, but allows the wood to develop a subdued grey patina. Semi-transparent stain is absorbed by the wood and shows off its grain and texture, while solid-colour stains are more opaque. The stain’s pigment is a deck’s best defence against sun damage. These products are available in water- and oil-based forms; while oil-based ones have a reputation for being more durable, water-based formulations have improved considerably. Every few years, use a wood — cleaning product to prepare the surface before reapplying stain and sealant. On new decks, coat all six sides of a decking board with stain, preservative, or both before attaching it. On older decks, use a long bristled brush to get between the decking.

20. Light up the crawl space

The crawl space under a cottage is the last place a cottager wants to be while on vacation, but it’s often where mechanical systems — hot water tank, pressure tank, and electrical panel — are hidden. They are usually not alone in this space, as it becomes a storage area for lawn chairs and water toys (and derelict hot water tanks and pumps). A few well-placed outdoor light fixtures in the crawl space will get you in and out faster, without having to search first for the trouble light or juggle a flashlight.

21. Add ceiling fans

Ceiling fans not only help cool a hot summer day, they also help keep the cottage warm in the winter. High-ceilinged rooms can be hard to heat because warm air collects up top and doesn’t circulate back down. In the winter, ceiling fans should rotate slowly clockwise, which pulls cool air up the middle of the room and circulates the trapped warm air down the walls and back into the living space. This also helps keep windows moisture-free. In the summer, ceiling fans should rotate counter-clockwise, pushing air down to cool those below.

22. Upsize your pressure tank

Water pump motors and motor controls aren’t fond of the frequent starting and stopping a small pressure tank causes, so pamper your pump by installing the largest pressure tank you have room and money for. The pump moves water into the pressure tank, which stores it until needed. When the pressure in the tank, which corresponds to the water level, drops below a set point, the pump will start and refill the tank. With a smaller pressure tank, the pump will cut in and out more often, especially if you have a cottage full of shower-loving teenagers. A larger pressure tank gives the pump a rest because it takes longer for the water level to drop, so the pump will run less often, but longer, to replenish it. If it takes less than one minute for the pump to fill your pressure tank, you know your pump is working too hard and wearing out too fast.

23. Supersize your septic

When it’s time to install a new septic system, choose the largest one you can fit in your space. It will last longer, work better, and need to be pumped out less often, an advantage if your cottage isn’t the most accessible place for the honey wagon. And if your usage increases in the future, your septic system will still be up to the job.

24. Stop the rot

Moisture is one of your cottage’s greatest enemies because, given a chance, it will lead to rot. Wood that’s close to the ground, over the foundation or supporting a deck, say, is especially susceptible. Most cottagers know they can’t put a wood post directly on the ground; it must rest on a footing, such as a concrete block or concrete-filled Sonotube. But concrete is a porous material that absorbs water and can wick it into the post. An easy solution is to put a moisture-proof barrier between the concrete footing and the wood post. Something as simple as tar paper or an asphalt roofing shingle, placed between the two, will stop the transfer of moisture and guarantee strong foundation posts.

25. Power for the future

Cottages can have a lot of electrical demands, sometimes even more than a city home: water heaters, baseboard heaters, water pumps, sump pumps, electric heating cable to keep waterlines unfrozen, boatlifts, hot tubs, and saunas. Any of these puts extra load on the power supply — a load that a 60- or even 100-amp service may not be able to handle.So when upgrading an electrical service, make sure to anticipate your future needs; select a panel with a lot of extra breaker space and, if you’ll need it someday, 200-amp service.

This article was originally published on February 5, 2006


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